John William Beatty was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1869. He spent 11 years from 1889-1900 as a fireman for the City of Toronto before deciding to study art for a year in Paris, London, followed by studies in the Low Countries of North Western Europe in 1907.
By 1909 Beatty's art aspired to depict the Canadian landscape as a sort of patriotic statement. He shared this artistic desire and liberation with several painters who later became the members of the Group of Seven. He undertook sketching trips with Lawren Harrisas early as 1909, and had a personal studio in the Studio Building Harris built to foster creativity among Canadian artists.Beatty was a member of the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto. A group of artists and patrons whom met to discuss aesthetic and cultural concerns in the art world.
It has been said that the pre-War period was Beatty's most important for developping as an artist. His skill as a painter and his dedication to refreshingly Canadian subject matter won him praise from forward-thinking artists, critics and patrons. In 1911, the National Gallery of Canada acquired his Evening Cloud of the Northland, which remains his masterpiece.
In 1914 he travelled to the Rocky Mountains with A.Y. Jackson, followed by a trip with Jackson and Arthur Lismer to Algonquin Park.
Beatty was a friend and early influence on Tom Thompson, he built the memorial cairn for Thomson at Canoe Lake in 1917.
Beatty was commissioned as a war artist to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917 and spent time in Britain and France from March to October, 1918. After his return, he withdrew from the more avant-garde activities of his Toronto painting colleagues, his late paintings are decorative in nature. Today he is known today as a forerunner of, rather than a participant in the movement which became the Group of Seven in 1920.
Beatty taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1912 to 1941. He founded and ran the Ontario College of Art summer school from 1913-35. His involvement with the Ontario College of Art was crucial in the development of art education to this day in Ontario.
He died in Toronto in 1941.